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San Francisco Opera
Jovanovich and Nylund, Lohengrin and Elsa at SFO
© Cory Weaver 2013
San Francisco Opera's Lohengrin (seen Oct. 20) included two firsts — Brandon Jovanovich's first outing in the title role and music director Nicola Luisotti's first time conducting Wagner. The results were mixed. Jovanovich, whose previous San Francisco roles include Pinkerton and Luigi, as well as Froh and Siegmund in the company's American Ring, imparted a measure of strength and stamina to the role. Yet his performance fell short of delivering the full demands of Wagner; the ardent phrasing, the richly textured vocal resources and the humanity that define a great Lohengrin were often in short supply. Clad in a leather greatcoat, his hair slicked back, Jovanovich was vigorous in his deportment yet diffident in expression; his firm instrument occasionally attained moments of eloquence but frequently acquired a harsh, hollow sound. Although Jovanovich seemed to grow in stature throughout the evening, reaching his greatest eloquence in Act III's Grail narration, this remained an oddly unsatisfying assumption.
Soprano Camilla Nylund made an alluring company debut as Elsa von Brabant, making the character's Act I dream an episode of lustrous vocalism. Mezzo Petra Lang nearly stole the show as Ortrud, imparting uncommon dimension to the role and steely tone to "Entweihte Götter"; baritone Gerd Grochowski's consistently well-sung Telramund was the decidedly meeker half of this power couple. Bass Kristinn Sigmundsson exuded authority as King Heinrich, and Brian Mulligan's shapely baritone made the most of the Herald's role. Ian Robertson's chorus made its finest showing in recent memory; the ensemble dispatched its assignment with organic power and superior dynamics.
Daniel Slater's production, co-owned by Grand Théâtre de Genève and Houston Grand Opera, ranged from distracting to risible. The director transferred the action from the tenth century to a vaguely realized mid-twentieth-century Europe. Robert Innes Hopkins's designs dressed the men in military regalia and the women in dowdy suits and gowns and made the bridal chamber a diorama; the curtain rose on Lohengrin and Elsa posed as figures on a wedding cake. The swan took the form of a shadowy winged figure and was elsewhere represented on a large shield suggesting the logo for a budget airline.
Luisotti, however, exceeded expectations. The conductor led an urgent, expansive performance, eliciting sumptuous detail from the expanded orchestra and maintaining impeccable balances between the stage and the pit. Luisotti may not be a Wagnerian to the manner born, but he may prove one in practice in San Francisco.
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